Today is Self Injury Awareness Day. Self Injury or Harm is one of those things that people find almost impossible to understand. You hear it and think "save us from one more teen angst attention dramz" or you might be all "That shit be crazy. Why would anyone do that?". Indeed, that last is an excellent question.
Why the fuck would anyone do it? Let me tell you why I did it.
I'm a self-harmer (you got that, right?), although I haven't self-harmed for a long time now, many years in fact. There was a time when it was the only way that I had to cope with simply being me. What was worse was that although I had been a perennial picker of scabs etc as a child and self-harmed on and off during adolescence, I developed into a major league SH'er in my twenties. I know, right? Get your fucking shit together, loser. Who does that?
A lot of people. They just don't talk about it. Because of shame.
Well, I'm not ashamed. Shame can fuck right off. It’s not a useful emotion and I want no part of it. As Augusten Burroughs says in his book This Is How,
“Shame is the landfill emotion. It’s not organic, like joy. It was dumped there by somebody else.
Shame is very heavy, dense disappointment; somebody else’s in you.
Inside of disappointment is a deeper judgement: Less than. Inferior. Defective.
… Shame can lead to a shitload of problems.”
It's not about suicide, although I did try that too but not at the times I was self-harming. Self harm is very different from suicide. It might seem similarly self-destructive, but SH is about wanting to be alive, not wanting to end it all. It was a way to manage the blaring racket inside me, to control my pain, to make sense of things. I wanted to feel something, to know that I felt it and to decide when I felt it.
I would never suggest it as a form of therapy. I would a) truly hope that no one ever felt even a tenth of what I felt, b) but if they did their family and friends would see it and give them the support they need rather than ignoring or admonishing them or c) that they themselves find another way out of the spiral.
Do not treat Self Harm as the problem. It is a symptom. Casting the shadow of shame on it because you don’t understand how someone could do that to themselves is a bullshit move. If you care about someone, be there for them. I know it's hard, but sometimes simply taking the next breath is hard. Believing you're not worth the effort of taking the next breath is hard. If you don’t understand it, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist or can be fixed with that good old maxim “sort yourself out”. That shit does not work. DOES. NOT. WORK. Self-harm happens because other shit is kicking the self-harmer’s arse and while you might not stop it, you can at least do them a solid by not ignoring them and not judging them. Because you care, right? So your squeamishness about the harm they do themselves can be contained. You never know, just not being a dick about it might be enough to make them stop. They’ll know they’re not alone, that although they might not be understood, they’re not lost in that dark vortex of self; that they have a strand of red in the labyrinth. Sometimes that’s enough. Sometimes it isn’t. But you’ll never know if you don’t quell the urge to ignore it.
Of course, they won’t want to talk about it. I never did. Patience and acceptance worked for me. Both mine and that of my lifeline. I've been enormously lucky. It wasn’t easy. It can become addictive – what shit that makes you feel better, if only for a moment, can’t? But I stopped. I don’t say I don’t ever think about it, but I don’t do it. It’s not my first port of call. I have control without it now. More than anything, however, I learned not to be ashamed.
Shame. What a useless ballbag of an emotion. So fuck it.